Most poems created by chance operations use some original text as their source, be it the newspaper, an encyclopedia, or a famous work of literature. The purpose of such a practice is to play against the poet's intentions and ego, while creating unusual syntax and images. The resulting poems allow the reader to take part in producing meaning from the work.
Roots of Chance Operations in Poetry
The roots of using chance operations to generate poetry are generally traced to the Dada movement in Western Europe in the early and mid-twentieth-century, involving writers such as André Breton, Louis Aragon, Tristan Tzara, Philippe Soupault, and Paul Éluard. The Dadaists were deeply interested in the subconscious, and they believed that the mind would create associations and meaning from any text, including those generated through random selections. In one section of Tzara's "Dada Manifesto on Feeble & Bitter Love," he offers the following instructions to make a Dadaist poem, here translated from the original French by Barbara Wright:
"Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd."